Macedonian Literature: In Search of a National Identity

Laurence Gardner

Following the upheaval of the Second World War, many Macedonian writers were given the task of establishing a new identity for the country. This post war period saw Macedonia’s literary scene flourishing, as a number of young writers began exploring what it meant to be Macedonian.
Often considered the initiator of this post war period of modern Macedonian literature, Koco Racin is perhaps best known for his prose and poetry which focused on the people of Macedonia and their struggle for a national identity. Racin’s poetry collection White Dawns was originally published under the pseudonym K. Racin, out of fear of being identified for his socialist ideals. His death in 1943, murdered at the hands of a guard is often considered politically motivated.

Much like Racin, the poet Kole Nedelkovski was a strong advocate for the rights of Macedonia’s citizens, and his collections of poetry, Lightning and On Foot in the World capture these ideals. Similarly to Racin, Nedelkovski’s premature death in 1941 is often debated, with some believing his fall from a window a suicide while others claim that it was at the hands of the Bulgarian police that had hounded him for much of his adult life.

Kole Nedelkovski

Another important figure in the early days of modern Macedonian literature is the highly regarded translator, Blaže Koneski. Originally studying at the University of Belgrade as a medical student, Koneski switched his attention to Serbian language and literature. He is often considered a key figure for his role in establishing what is known as the common Macedonian literary language, which was created as a way to unite the various different Macedonian dialects.
Over time, many writers sought to expand upon these feelings of identity by moving in new directions with the introduction of fantasy and myth. Perhaps the most respected of these writers, Zivko Cingo, who during his lifetime worked as a journalist, was the Director of the Macedonian National Theatre, and also the founder and President for the Writers association of Macedonia. Cingo released a number of short stories and novels in his native Macedonian, with perhaps his most well known being the 1962 collection Paskvelija and the follow up Nova Paskvelija, both collections based in a fantasy world where conflicts between old traditions and a new way of life arises. His novel Golemata Voda (The Big Water) was turned into a film, The Great Water in 2004, which tells the story of a young orphan living in the turmoil of post war Macedonia.
The notable writer Slavko Janevski, who also worked as a scriptwriter and painter, wrote a great deal of poetry and prose collections not only for adults, but also for children. Like Janevski, many of Macedonia’s writers also wrote for children, the writer Srbo Ivanovski wrote a number of poems for children, while Gligor Popovski, is perhaps the most well known of Macedonian writers for children, and he often discussed adult themes in his works, such as the country’s many political struggles.

Office of Struga Poetry Evenings in Struga

As a way to acknowledge the many outstanding Macedonian writers, the country hosts the well-known international literary festival, the Struga Poetry Evenings. Beginning in 1962 to honour the two brothers and writers Konstantin and Dimitar Miladinov, the Struga Poetry Evenings have been held annually ever since. The festival is also home to the prestigious Miladinov Brothers award, which is Macedonia’s national prize for the best book of published poetry, while The Golden Wreath prize is awarded each year to an international poet, with past winners including Seamus Heaney, W.H Auden and Hans Magnus Enzensberger.

The country also boasts The Racin Meetings, held as a celebration of Koco Racin at his birthplace in Titov Veles each year since 1964, as a way to honour the prose work of Macedonian writers, with the Racin Recognition Award being presented to a single prose writer each year.
Since the end of the Second World War and the birth of the period known as the modern Macedonian literary age, a great deal of the country’s writers have found a collective and powerful voice to tell of their experiences and of Macedonia’s tumultuous history.

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